Tekhelet in the Desert

During the first year of their journey in the desert, the Israelites were commanded to donate gifts to be used in making the Mishkan (Tabernacle). The recommended donations were as follows: gold, silver, copper, tekhelet, argaman (purple), shani (crimson), fine linen, goats’ hair, ram skins, etc. (Exodus 25).

The tekhelet was used, along with the other fabrics, as a cloth roof for the portable Mishkan. In addition, it was woven into a curtain, partitioning the Ark into a separate chamber. Besides its uses in the Mishkan, tekhelet was also a material used in the Priestly garments. The robe was made entirely of tekhelet; the headpiece and breastpiece incorporated tekhelet, as well.

A famous Israeli satirist poked fun, in recent years, at the rejuvenation of the mitzvah of tekhelet. If tekhelet comes from a marine snail, he pondered, where did the Israelites get the “millions of snails” necessary to produce all the required tekhelet, in the desert?

Well, the recently-freed slave nation probably got the valuable tekhelet from the same place they got the gold, silver and copper! When the Israelites left Egypt, they took with them the great riches promised to Abraham in the covenant:

“Know well that your offspring shall be strangers in a land not theirs, and they shall be enslaved and oppressed four hundred years; but I will execute judgment on the nation they shall serve, and in the end they shall go free with great wealth” (Genesis 15:13-14).

In recounting the exodus from Egypt, we read:

So the people took their dough before it was leavened, their kneading bowls wrapped in their cloaks upon their shoulders. The Israelites had done Moses’ bidding and borrowed from the Egyptians objects of silver and gold, and clothing. And the Lord had disposed the Egyptians favorably toward the people, and they let them have their request; thus they despoiled the Egyptians” (Exodus 12:33-36).